One doctor, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are confidential, said she and her partner had already been talking with the nearby hospital nearby about buying their pediatric practice before the pandemic arrived in the United States.
Although federal aid has helped, patient visits are still 15 percent below normal, she said, and they are continually worried about making payroll and having enough doctors and staff to see patients. As the number of virus cases balloons in the Midwest, her employees must deal with increasingly agitated parents.
“They’re yelling and cussing at my staff,” she said. Working for a telemedicine firm might be an alternative, she added. “It’s a hard job to begin with, to own your own business,” she said.
The coronavirus crisis has amplified problems that doctors were already facing, whether they own their practice or are employed. “A lot of physicians were hanging on by a thread from burnout before the pandemic even started,” said Dr. Susan R. Bailey, the president of the American Medical Association.
In particular, smaller practices continue to have difficulty finding sufficient personal protective equipment, like gloves and masks. “The big hospitals and health care systems have pretty well-established systems of P.P.E.,” she said, but smaller outfits might not have a reliable source. “I was literally on eBay looking for masks,” she said. The cost of these supplies has also become a significant financial issue for some practices.
Doctors are also stressed by the never-ending need to keep safe. “There is a hunker-down mentality now,” Dr. Bailey said. She is concerned that some doctors will develop PTSD from the chronic stress of caring for patients during the pandemic.
Even those who are not responsible for running their own practices are leaving. Courtney Barry, 40, a family nurse practitioner at a rural health clinic in Soledad, Calif., watched the cases of coronavirus finally ebb in her area, only to see wildfires break out. Many of her patients are farmworkers and work outside, and they became ill from the smoke.